ITRW on Experimental Linguistics

Athens, Greece
August 28-30, 2006

Experiments in Investigating Sound Symbolism and Onomatopoeia

Åsa Abelin

Department of Linguistics, University of Göteborg, Sweden

The area of sound symbolism and onomatopoeia is an interesting area for studying the production and interpretation of neologisms in language. One question is whether neologisms are created haphazardly or governed by rules. Another question is how this can be studied. Of the approximately 60 000 words in the Swedish lexicon 1 500 have been judged to be sound symbolic (Abelin 1999). These were analyzed in terms of phonesthemes, (i. e. sound symbolic morpheme strings) which were subjected to various experiments in order to evaluate their psychological reality in production and understanding. In test 1 nonsense words were constructed according to the results of the preliminary analysis of phonesthemes and then interpreted by subjects. In test 2 subjects were instructed to create new words for some given, sense related, domains. In test 3 subjects were to interpret these neologisms. Test 4 was a lexical decision experiment on onomatopoeic, sound symbolic and arbitrary words. The results of the first three tests show that the phonesthemes are productive, to different degrees, in both production and understanding. The results of the lexical decision test do not show perceptual productivity. The methods are presented and discussed.

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Abelin, Åsa (2006): "Experiments in investigating sound symbolism and onomatopoeia", In ExLing-2006, 61-64.